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LA Unified gearing up for new statewide science tests in 2019

Mike Szymanski | November 3, 2015

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Scott Schmerelson and Jefferson Crain try out a FOSS kit.

LA Unified 2nd graders will be taking a California comprehensive science test when they reach 5th grade in 2019, and district science coordinators are already gearing up for it, according to a presentation before the school boad’s Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee.

But it’s a huge undertaking. District officials leading the effort told the committee that preparing students for the state tests, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, will require 90 teachers and administrators to be trained for a Science Leadership Team, and 1,000 teachers (at least one for every school) to serve as a lead science teacher. It will also require creating a new science center in each of the four Local Districts that don’t have one.

“We all know that science is very important in our world today, and we need to see how we are getting the word out to our schools,” said Scott Schmerelson, the board member who is the chairman of the committee.

The State Board of Education adopted the new science standards in 2013 with plans to revamp the district’s science curriculum. Then, statewide tests for 5th, 8th and 11th graders would start in 2019.

Right now, 23 district schools are piloting the new versions of the Full Option Science Systems (FOSS) program that offers hands-on kits for students to solve problems on their own, said Ayham Dahi, the secondary school level science coordinator. FOSS kits are used in every elementary school now for instruction, but the new ones are the Next Generation Science Standards version. The district hopes to expand the pilot FOSS kits to 100 schools within the next year.

To demonstrate the FOSS kits, elementary science coordinator Lillian Valdez-Rodela placed two bags between committee members for a collaborative task. “This is what we are now doing in the 4th grade,” she said. In one bag, the team had to figure out how to make a bulb light up, and in the other, they had to make a flashlight that turns on and off without using wires. Schmerelson and board executive officer Jefferson Crain solved the challenge first.

“We have gone a long way in science,” said Valdez-Rodela. “We are asking students to apply a scientific concept and solve an engineering problem. This is the shift from learning that we did in 1998 to figuring it out today.”


Principal Norma Spencer from Alexander Science Center

Principal Norma Spencer of Alexander Science Center School near Exposition Park, explained how she motivated her staff and students starting in August. “I was the only one who was excited about science and removed the fear and put together a model that worked,” she said.

She said she allowed students and teachers to develop the science curricula and put them in eight-to 12-week segments. That allowed students to redesign projects that didn’t work and gave parents a chance to observe their children’s work.

She now has six Lead Science Teachers, one for each grade, rather than the one-per-school that the district recommends. “I meet with them once a month and they go back and share with their colleagues,” Spencer said. She said she asks that 20 percent of the time be spent teaching, and 80 percent is for child collaboration and lab time. Once a week, she said she visits classes and talks to the children about what they are learning.

“We give children the sense of empowerment and everyone has to participate so no one gets left behind,” Spencer said. “Most importantly, the children are fearless and not afraid to fail or put ideas out there. If it’s not correct then they have their colleagues help them to make it work.”

The last state science standards were adopted in 1998, and that’s when Karen Jin taught at Fairfax High School. Now an LAUSD science coordinator, Jin said engineering is being incorporated at all grade levels, K through 12.

“There is an urgency to get students ready for this transition,” she said,

Now the district has a science center at two ends of the large district in Granada Hills in the western San Fernando Valley and in San Pedro. Jin said there needs to be one in all six Local Districts. Committee member Juan Ramirez, representing UTLA, said he was concerned about some schools’ getting left out and FOSS kits that need to be restocked. The staff said that they are replenishing all the FOSS kits and restocking them.

Committee member Scott Folsom, representing the PTSA, said, “I wish we would move faster on this, but this is a district that doesn’t do fast very well.”

And committee chairman Schmerelson said it would be important to figure out how the a lead science teacher would be chosen. “It will have to be someone who is exemplary in science and well-versed,” he said. “You can’t just have anyone fill that spot.”

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